Travelling internationally, interstate or even just a few hours away can sometimes be a challenging and tiring experience. Throw babies and children into the mix and there’s even more to think about! The best thing that you can do is to ensure you are well prepared before you leave. Here are some tips for travel with small people.

Flying with babies & children

  • On some airlines you can take a stroller up to the gate with you, and if it’s compact you may be able to take it onto the plane and store it in the overhead locker. Otherwise the airline staff will take it from you at the gate, and if you remind them before arrival at your destination they will have it waiting when you disembark. A sling or pouch in the bottom of your carry-on luggage can be a life-saver if your stroller ends up with the other luggage, which can happen!
  • For babies you can book a seat with a bassinet in front. Be aware that these are in the front row with a wall in front of you, so leg room and room for cabin luggage is limited. Also the tray folds into the arm rest, so the arm rests cannot be lifted up to create a wider area.
  • Travelling with a fully breastfed baby is easy, as you have their food on tap and don’t need to worry about cleaning feeding utensils etc. If you need to express, it can be a bit trickier. Check with your airline about restrictions in carrying liquids. If you are travelling without your baby, you can take expressed breastmilk (EBM) on board a plane. You will need to store it in containers less than 100ml and no more than a litre in total, otherwise you need to check it into your baggage. If you have your baby with you, you are allowed to take as much EBM or boiled water to make up a formula feed (must be in a baby bottle) as you need. In some countries you may be asked to taste the liquids to prove they are milk.

Breastfeeding on take-off and landing, can help with the changes in air pressure which can affect your ears. Babies’ Eustachian tube (auditory tube) are very narrow, so the change in pressure can easily be painful. For older/weaned kids, something else to suck can help too.

  • Have a small nappy change pack with wipes, one nappy and whatever else you use, in a small bag in an outside pocket of your cabin luggage. Aeroplane toilets are small and it’s hard enough to fit yourself and your baby in one with the change table folded down, let alone a full nappy bag as well. Replenish your nappy change kit once you get back to your seat. It can be worth scoping out the nappy change potential of the different toilets before you have to change a nappy — some toilets may be more spacious than others.
  • If at all possible financially, pay for a seat for your toddler, even if they are under the age to need one. Otherwise, you can end up very cramped on a full flight with an 18-month-old on your lap. Not to mention that you can’t fold your table down if you have a toddler on your lap, which can make meal times difficult to say the least.
  • If your child is of an age to order meals, order a kids meal for them. The special orders are delivered first, so you can help your child eat before your own meal arrives. Keep this in mind with two adults travelling with children, too. If one orders a special menu, the adults can eat in relays.
  • In the weeks before you go, buy some simple toys to keep your youngster occupied, or squirrel away some of their current toys so they will be new and exciting again. Look for things without parts that cannot be dropped and lost. Airlines give out colouring books, etc, but these are mostly a little too advanced for toddlers.
  • Pack a full change of clothes for your baby and yourself in your cabin luggage. You never know what might end up on your clothes during the flight, and you will feel better not having to sit in vomity clothes for 12 hours.
  • There is usually pre-boarding for special needs passengers, including children and their accompanying adults. This can be good, so you can get in and settled before the general stampede, but remember that you then have a wait while the rest of the passengers to board and required to remain there if there are any delays during general boarding.
  • Check carefully with the airline what can and cannot be carried in cabin luggage!

Long-haul car trips

  • Allow plenty of time to arrive at your destination. The rule of thumb is twice as much as the driving time – for example, 10 hours to Sydney = 20 hours in total. Aim to travel for 2 hours, then have a break of at least an hour, up to 2 hours. This ties in with changing drivers, or the driver having a break every 2 hours, as is recommended for safe driving.
  • If you can rest up beforehand, travelling in the early morning can take advantage of kids’ natural sleep time. (i.e. 5 am onwards, not too much before your own normal waking time, for safety’s sake). Then your first stop can be time to change into day clothes, have breakfast and run around. Even if transferring the kids into the car in the first place wakes them, the missing sleep may well be made up for later in the day. Just remember that you too will get sleepy later on — probably after lunch, so make sure you can stop for a rest if you need to.
  • Make stops at playgrounds or other places where kids can run around and get rid of excess energy. This can be good for you too. Grab a ball and kick it around, explore the park. In a pinch, if you can’t find anywhere else suitable, fast food restaurants have not only toilets, but often playgrounds attached. On a warm day a swimming pool can make a great stopping place as well.
  • Some young babies sleep really well in the car. Ensure you take a good break every couple of hours and offer bub a couple of chances to feed, otherwise dehydration may strike. It can be very warm inside a car seat/capsule, so bub may sweat a lot. Ensure sun is not shining directly on bub either.
  • Have ideas to keep kids occupied in the car. There are plenty of ideas for travel games in books and on the internet. Electronic devices make keeping kids occupied much easier these day and can be used with headphones (consider a splitter plug so 2 pairs of headphones can be used at once). Just watch out for car sickness in some kids. Books or movies on iPads can be played with headphones. For the littlies, songs or simple stories may capture their interest, or you may find yourself doing lots of singing. Bone up on some nursery rhymes before you go — 2000 kms of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is akin to Chinese water torture!
  • Have changes of clothes for all of you within easy reach. If you have to stop and unpack the boot to get out Timmy’s spare clothes, that spill becomes a major catastrophe instead of a minor annoyance.
  • Make sure snacks are not too sticky or messy – they will get spilt! If you are stopping every couple of hours then water and minimal, simple snacks will be enough for the car.

Enjoy your trip — travel with children at any age is a great learning experience, for you as well as the children. It also gives you have an easy ‘in’ with the locals — children are a wonderful icebreaker for starting conversations wherever you are!